The Value of Human Beings

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I haven’t been able to write about this topic until now. I am so upset and disturbed by our lack of concern for the mentally ill that it almost makes me physically ill. I don’t think people without severe mental illness can know what it is like to realize that the majority of society thinks less of you than they do of a dog or a cat. If you think I am exaggerating, follow along for a moment.

During the latest storms on the East Coast, a meme was going around social media. The meme had these words on it, “Why is it you can get arrested for leaving a dog out in this weather but  ok for homeless people to sleep in it.”  Obviously, there are a few errors in this, but it is the sentiment I am after and not the grammar. On one person’s Facebook page underneath the meme, a commenter wrote: “…But to answer the question, someone has taken on being a responsible pet owner, and that pet is 100% dependent on that owner and does not have free will, so that is why.”

The fact that there was even a response that someone thought sounded reasonable tells us everything about how they feel about homeless people. I don’t know anyone who is an addict or has schizophrenia and is psychotic that is acting in a way we could describe as “free will.” I can’t  even dissect this answer because the fact that someone tried to justify caring more for pets than homeless people makes me simultaneously weep, nauseous and angry to the point that I can feel my blood pressure going up.

I grew up with cats and dogs. In my twenties and almost to my thirties I had either a cat or two dogs. I am currently a pescetarian, so the only meat I eat is fish (poor fish) and most of my adult life I have gone on again off again with being a vegetarian. No one can say that I don’t care about the plight of animals. I do, but I don’t care more about animals than I do about people.

There have been two times that people have threatened to beat me up, and both times it had to do with asking (asking, not yelling, not screaming) them to please put their dogs on a leash. I am terrified of other people’s dogs, and I won’t go near a dog off leash. (My dad was attacked by a pit bull while walking into a store. The dog jumped out the car window and took a bite out of my dad’s stomach. It took several people to get the dog off of him.)

When I say that two adult men have threatened to beat me for asking them to put their dogs on a leash, I am not joking – they chased me, screamed at me, and one tried to get his Rottweiler to attack me. They both told me if they caught me I would be more afraid of them than of their dogs.

Where I live in Southern California pet owners are some of the most difficult people (and dangerous) I encounter on a regular basis. There are laws against having dogs in places serving or selling food (the exception is for service animals). To get around this, most pet owners claim that their dogs are service dogs. I have no issue with real service dogs. I think they are great, but I also know that real service animals’ training is so extensive that it is almost impossible to know they are around.

So, every time I go to the grocery store or to a restaurant I have to share the space with dogs. There are over ten thousand homeless people in the county I live in, and most places of business don’t want “those people” anywhere near their storefronts, but they welcome animals.

They welcome animals. Just let that sit with you for a minute and sink in.

Stigma, it Gets in Our Hearts and in Our Heads

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The worst thing I have seen when it comes to the treatment of the mentally ill was the video of the Fullerton police beating Kelly Thomas on July 10, 2011. I am not going to post the video here. It is so violent and so disturbing it could cause some people emotional distress to watch it. Kelly had schizophrenia, and the beating resulted in his death.

Last week we had the video (again, I’m not going to post it although it is not violent, but upsetting) of the woman with bipolar disorder left outside of a Baltimore hospital with a hospital gown on in freezing weather. Articles came out discussing the lack of humanity in healthcare.

But who is it that the police and the healthcare system get caught on camera mistreating? The majority of the time, it is someone with a mental illness. Why is it so hard to see our humanity? Why once again are we reading about hospitals “dumping” the mentally ill off at bus stations with a one-way ticket? When those people “dumped” get to their destination, they have no contacts, no family, no way to get the medication and treatment they need. If I were in that situation, I would be as vulnerable as a lost child in an unknown city. Why can’t people say to themselves, “what if this were my mom, aunt, dad, uncle, cousin, sister, brother?”

Why is it so hard for some people to feel compassion and empathy for the mentally ill?

I recently read a study put out in 2008 by the Canadian Medical Association that found that one in four Canadians are fearful of being around someone with a serious mental illness. I saw another study (Canadian) circulating on Facebook (I can’t find it now, so I won’t be able to quote it exactly) that claimed a high percentage of people wouldn’t be friends with someone with a severe mental illness.

I have to ask myself what is serious and what is severe? I frequently read from parents who have a child with schizophrenia that it is “every parent’s nightmare.” I also frequently read that it is the most “dreaded diagnosis.”

How am I supposed to keep my head up or fight the urge to isolate or my lack of motivation (both symptoms of schizophrenia) if people aren’t going to see me as a valuable member of society or as their friend, or even as a fellow human with wants, dreams, desires, etc.?

Sure, you can tell me, it is getting better, those studies were conducted a decade ago, but is it? If those needing treatment the most are “dumped” at bus stations so that they can become “someone else’s problem.” Is that better?

I know, you can tell me, “You are different, Rebecca. You are married. You have a family. You have friends.” But it is precisely those things that I have (a support network) that keep me from being issued one of those bus tickets.

I never want to be a passenger on a bus to a city I don’t know. I never want to be in that bus seat as that passenger, but in a way, I travel with all of those victims because it is our diagnosis that others are responding to and I have that “dreaded diagnosis,” too.

Stigma, it gets in our hearts and in our heads.

Silence vs. Hearing Voices

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Even before my first episode of hearing voices, I had a very noisy mind.

When I was in my twenties, before my diagnosis of schizophrenia, I frequently laid awake at night and went over a situation or conversation I had had during that day. I played things over and over again in my head. I often regretted something about what I had said or done. My actions and words would keep me awake at night. I was deeply insecure, felt shame on many occasions and questioned my responses to so much of what I was doing. During those times when I would play things over in my head, I would hear a voice (my internal voice) talking to me. It was a voice I heard in my heard most of the day. It was my internal dialogue.

That kind of hearing a “voice” is common for almost everyone. It is very different than hearing the voices I did when I was psychotic. When I am psychotic, the voices are not “my” voice (although I also hear my voice because I have conversations with the other voices). The last time I was psychotic I had three voices besides “mine” talking to me. I heard the voice of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Not only do antipsychotic drugs clear up the voices that are intrusive and outside of my control (I know some people can direct and control or at least influence the voices they hear, but I can’t), they stop the voice that is “mine.” Rarely do I hear a running commentary in my mind of what I am doing, saying, planning, thinking or dreaming. In other words, my mind is mostly quiet.

When I am writing, I hear the words as I am typing them and occasionally, I will talk to myself inside of my head, but it is rare. The majority of the time it is blank. Silent. Nothing.

What antipsychotics do is give me more control over my mind. I don’t seem to do well with anxiety, paranoia, or a few other symptoms, but I no longer have a noisy mind. I think that people who meditate try to silence their mind and I don’t blame them. There are healing and comfort in a silenced mind.

When I told my husband that most of the time I don’t hear a voice (mine), he said, it was bizarre even to consider. I have grown to like this silence because when there is noise, it is not a good sign. And the ability to bring up my internal voice when I want to also helps my writing. I can have an idea for a blog post or essay and work the writing out in my mind before I ever sit down at the computer. I will work through the words and the writing with my internal voice.

Not having running commentary by a critical or judgmental or doubting internal voice helps me to deal with the other symptoms when they arise. It also helps me with my courage because I have one less voice talking to me about stigma, stupid ideas, embarrassing moments, etc. even if that one less voice was always one that belonged to me.

 

 

Widespread Trauma and Radical Kindness

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I know so many women who have had breast cancer. One of my best friends had it, and two close friends have gone through double mastectomies. The treatments these women have had to go through, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, physical therapy, etc. is traumatic. So many other people I know have had other types of cancer. My brother-in-law had thyroid cancer. My mom has leukemia. Not only are the treatments traumatic there are the thoughts and questions: Will I live? Will I die? Will I go into remission? Will the cancer come back? Will my spouse, kids, loved ones be okay without me? Will I ever get back to a normal routine? Will I have another birthday? Will I see my kids get married? A cancer diagnosis creates fear, doubts, plans for treatment, and thoughts of death.

I thought about this yesterday as I was scrolling through Facebook. I have over three thousand friends on that platform (I don’t know most of them, I follow them because they are writers). But with a connection to that many people every day, I read a lot about illness which translates into a lot of trauma. Of course, there are traumatic experiences beyond illness too – the loss of a loved one (I see this daily). There is the loss of a home or job. There is so much pain, grief and injury going on around us all the time that it made me think, “Everyone is suffering in one way or another. Everyone has experienced a traumatic event that changed them, scarred them, scared them and made them vulnerable.”

That vulnerability that people feel can find expression in many ways. In the worst way, it is anger. In the best way, it is compassion toward others, but there is no one way to respond to trauma or the scars it leaves behind.

That is why I thought about radical kindness. Let’s be clear, I didn’t come up with the term or concept of radical kindness, but I can add that it is how I want to respond to the people I encounter and how I hope all of us will try to act and help take a step in healing each other.

Last week I bought a homeless man a Frappuccino at Starbucks because that was his drink of choice. That kind of kindness is easy to act out. It is easy to see the need for a homeless person. It isn’t always easy to see the need in the customer service person on the other end of the phone or the server at your local restaurant or the grocery store clerk. People are hurting all around us.

I know we have all seen the meme going around the Internet about being kind because we don’t know what someone else is going through, and it seems cliché. It’s true, though, we don’t know what other people are going through, and everyone has experienced a trauma of some kind or another. In other words, everyone has a pain they are carrying.

As I see it, radical kindness is a kindness practiced toward everyone we encounter. May we always have a kind word on our lips. May we always offer our place in line to the person behind us. May we buy a stranger a cup of coffee or a hot meal or pay for their groceries. May we meet every person with compassion, and an open heart. May we always act bold and brave and from a place of abundance when we see a person in need. May we recognize that every person we encounter is a person in need.

More Than One Side of Schizophrenia

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I need to work harder. I wish that my blog and the articles I wrote for Teen Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Dr. Oz, Yahoo News, Ravishly, The Fix, Headspace, and even the fashion magazine, Byrdie, would go viral. Last night I got the feeling that people don’t assume it is possible that a person with schizophrenia could wake up in the morning, grab their coffee and sit down to an issue of the Washington Post, New York Times or Boston Globe. I’m here to say it is possible, and it is happening in more homes than just mine (although my subscriptions are not paper, but electronic).

Yesterday, I was furious, exhausted, and felt completely beaten by an article in the Washington Post. Of course, the article was about schizophrenia, and the first sentence pulled out of the article is, “Her “perfect child” was now schizophrenic and homeless.” It is hard for me to imagine that a staff writer at a paper as big and prestigious as the Washington Post, can’t even bother to try and use disability friendly language. I know not everyone who has schizophrenia is opposed to this language, but the majority of advocates, academics, and mental health professionals no longer refer to people as schizophrenic – something a writer at a major paper should be aware of if he is going to write stories about people in our community.

And of course, it is a story that we have all seen time and time again: A parent’s perspective. Homelessness. My once golden child is now defective. Do you know how hard this story is to read? I admit that homelessness is a shameful problem in this country (it is the cause I give the most time, effort and money toward), and yes, I think we should have way more psychiatric facilities for people who are medication resistant, or chronically psychotic, or even to get temporary treatment. And I even believe that there needs to be some change in the laws about getting someone treatment who may not be deemed a danger to themselves or others but is clearly at risk, but even with all that, the article hit me as stereotypical and highly stigmatizing.

Our mental health system is in shambles, but another story about how a person with schizophrenia is causing his or her family distress because they won’t take their medication, and have disappeared into the shadows and unknown territory of our urban streets does not help those of us who have the illness. And does another story about homelessness and mental health push people into action? I don’t think so. A story about how a fourth of the people living on the street are mentally ill doesn’t get people to act. If it did, things would be different by now, because this story is worn out, told again and again.

Why not tell the story of people who have received help and gotten off the streets? Doesn’t a story like that help us to realize that we need to do something different? Doesn’t a success story let people know that we are not (like many people believe) throw away humans without hope or value, but people who have an illness that is possible to manage and with treatment and care recovery is at least a possibility?

To be truthful, I don’t know the story to tell to get people to wake up to the plight of the most vulnerable members of our society. I don’t know which stories would get people to vote for representatives who make the treatment of the mentally ill a priority. I’m not sure that any story can get people to act. If seeing the faces of people, both women, men, and children living without shelter, in squalor, and having many of them be out of touch with reality, isn’t enough to change laws, hearts, and minds, then maybe stories aren’t enough. Especially the stories we have been telling. We have to find a new way to talk and write about the struggles of severe mental illness and what it does to a person, a family, a community.

I don’t have the answers, but I hope I can dig deep into my creativity and one day tell a story that gets people to see the whole picture of schizophrenia and those who have it. I’ve been a person who refused treatment. I have been that person who left the comfort of their home. I believe there is hope for every single person with this illness. I believe that a person living on the streets today, could one day be a person reading a major paper while they drink their morning coffee –if I didn’t believe that, I doubt that article would have made an impact on me.

Hearing Voices and Advocacy

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If you aren’t learning something new every day, you must be unconscious.

It seems like every couple of months I go through a huge learning curve. I went through a big learning curve with the larger disability community about two years ago. I went through a learning curve with Black Lives Matter, and I have gone through several learning curves with schizophrenia, but none quite like this most recent one.

A couple of days ago I watched a whole group of mental health advocates have a “debate” more like a “fight” online. The problem was the term “unmedicated schizophrenic” the term is in a video created by a woman who has schizophrenia. When another advocate saw the video, she took issue with that word choice claiming that it plays into all the stereotypes about hearing voices.

After reading nearly three hundred comments, I am going to say, that in the future I don’t think I am going to use the words, “mental health advocate” to describe my work. It seems that everyone who has a mental illness is now a mental health advocate and unfortunately some people seem to think advocate equals expert. Not only is this confusing, but it can also be dangerous. For those people recently diagnosed who are looking for solid information about their illness, this thinking every advocate is an expert can lead to inaccurate information or even harmful information.

I don’t want to be confused with an expert. I am not an expert. I am one woman who writes about schizophrenia. I write about my life with it, things I see in the news about it, things I see in movies about it, and in the media and society in general. I have experience and opinions. I don’t have research and facts (unless I am quoting someone else).

So, not being known as an advocate is something I am going to work on in 2018. But beyond that, I learned a great deal from the exchange that went on between all of these advocates about the use of the term, “unmedicated schizophrenic.” I learned more about Intervoice, the International Hearing Voices Network (there is a USA chapter). I learned about the blog, Mad in America. And I learned about an organization called, Recovery Learning Community or RLC. All of the websites associated with these organizations are worth your time to check out.

I have known for a long time about people who are anti-psychiatry and also I have been aware of Intervoice since I saw a member’s TED Talk a year or more ago. Intervoice members believe that there are other ways to deal with hearing voices besides psychiatric intervention. Anyone who has been reading my blog for any length of time knows that I am all in with the medical model. I can’t imagine my life without antipsychotics.

I am willing and able to accept that people hear voices differently than I do, though. For me, psychosis (the only time I hear voices) always (I do mean always) leads me down a path where I am a danger to myself. So for me, trying to talk to my voices, getting control over my voices, and the other coping mechanisms described by Intervoice might mean that I die. I’m not joking, and I’m not hyperbolic. I might die by trying something besides medication. Is that worth it? No, of course not.

But, do I find it fascinating that some people can talk to their voices and get those voices to “act” differently? Yes, I think that is remarkable. It leads me to wonder, though do these people have the same illness as I do? (I think they refer to it as a condition and not an illness. They don’t agree with pathologizing the hearing of voices).

There might very well be many reasons people hear voices, and the way I hear them (and all the people I know who hear them have a similar story as mine), might just be one example. I don’t know. (This is also problematic for people who are psychotic and have the symptom anosognosia which is present in severe mental illness and has to do with lack of insight into the condition. In other words, it means the person doesn’t see themselves as sick. I have this symptom when I am psychotic, but not at other times). Suggesting that hearing voices is a normal experience to someone who is psychotic, could lead someone who desperately needs psychiatric intervention away from getting it.

I plan to read more about the people who can interact with the voices they hear and change outcomes. I have always thought that hearing voices was a sign of severe mental illness, but maybe it isn’t in all cases. I’m not one to doubt the experiences of someone else. I know schizophrenia isn’t the same for everyone and apparently, neither is hearing voices. For some people, it appears not to lead to a place of sheer terror or actions that could easily harm or kill the hearer.

I am hoping I never hear voices again, but reading about people that do provides a safe enough distance. Lifelong learning…it’s a real thing.

 

Let’s Leave Bitter for the Weather

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Well, 2018 has started as a mixed bag. I have a pinched nerve in my back, and my husband has had a nasty cough since before Christmas. On the positive side of things, we have already volunteered for an event that benefited our favorite non-profit, and today we were able to buy a homeless man a Venti Frappuccino (his choice) at Starbucks. Other than our ailments, the year is starting off great – generosity and service are two things I want more of this year, and we got an early start on them.

When I was volunteering at the event on Monday, I worked next to a woman I had never met before. During the concert, the two of us talked. She said she was fired from her job of fifteen years because of an “arrogant” pastor. When I complimented a woman on her outfit, the woman I was working side by side with said, “I don’t care about clothes. I gave away all my dresses and good clothes. I just don’t care.” And when I told her that the non-profit I was representing serves two meals a week to low income and homeless people she said all she could afford is two meals a day and, “Today I chose gas. I filled up the car instead.”

When a man came up who was enthusiastic about talking to us, she said, “Well, he sure likes to talk,” as he walked away. After spending an hour with her, it occurred to me that she is a bitter person. I am sure it is horrible only to be able to afford two meals a day and to have to choose gas over food. Those things are admittedly difficult and sad. But her negative attitude went beyond a scarcity of money. For example, it seemed to bother her when I complimented that other woman on her clothes. What harm does it do to compliment someone else? Why feel negative about someone else receiving something good?

Then it occurred to me, there are times when I feel sorry for myself (oh poor me), but I rarely, if ever, feel bitter. Have I had an easy life? Compared to some people, yes, even though I have experienced domestic violence, addiction, and schizophrenia, I still have an easy life compared to some people. We can all compare our lives to others, and we will find many who have had it easier than us and many who have had it far worse. That is not unusual, that is life. But how we handle the problems we face is what matters.

Even though I have a severe mental illness, I try to make the best out of my situation. Some days are extremely tough, some weeks are difficult, and I have had terrible years. But even with all of that, I was so happy to wake up this morning, and I am thrilled that I can type this blog. I have always been a person that finds pleasure in the little things, and that has kept me from becoming old before my time and from being seen as someone who is bitter.

Let’s try to leave bitter as a reference to the cold weather (there is currently a bitter cold sweeping the East), rather than have it refer to our attitude. I know it is cliché – the attitude of gratitude, but it can make all the difference in how we feel when the tough stuff comes our way.

Setting Intentions for the New Year

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Yesterday, I read this article in the New York Times . I thought the article was excellent. The title makes it seem as if it is only about New Year’s resolutions, but that isn’t the case. The article is about how willpower can cause damage to our health and compassion, pride and gratitude can create healing.

According to the article, research shows that we are willing to do many more tasks and accomplish much more if we feel proud, compassionate or grateful. I’m not going to explain the whole article here, but it is worth the read (I promise). It is one of the most interesting and possibly helpful, articles I have read on psychology in a long time.

So, as I look over the intentions I have written for 2018 and continue to add new ones over the next couple of days, I want to find far more ways to add pride, compassion, and gratefulness into my daily life. I can use all the healing and positive mental health benefits I can get, so this exercise seems like a worthy goal and a great way to start out 2018.

My husband and I sit down (without cell phones and television) to have dinner together most nights of the week. It isn’t that we have a fancy dinner, it is usually something easily prepared, leftovers, veggie burgers, fried egg sandwiches, or if we have been to Costco, we will have salmon filets. But it isn’t the food that we find important, it is the act of looking at each other and talking to one another. During dinner, we always ask the same question of each other, “What were the two best things that happened to you today?” There are times when we struggle to come up with two things, and other times when we list five or six. It is an exercise in gratitude that we have been practicing for a couple of years.

This year, I would like to add more rituals and exercises into our lives. I read on Facebook that a writer who I know keeps a jar and each week she writes down one good thing that happened and puts it into the jar. On New Year’s Day, she reads all 52 good things that happened in the last year. My husband and I are going to create such a jar, and make it our tradition to read all the highlights of the year the following New Year’s Eve or Day.  Keeping and adding to the jar should help with feeling more grateful all year long as my husband and I reflect on the best thing that happened to us each week.

Adding more compassion to our lives is fairly easy. I follow some blogs where people are going through some pretty tough health journeys (like cancer), and their words can often bring me to tears. I can make sure that I keep reading heartfelt stories and the experiences of others because it keeps my empathy and compassion muscles working. Also, I will continue to help raise money for the low income and homeless in our city. In fact, my husband and I are going to volunteer for one of our favorite non-profit’s events today. There is a concert in the park, and all of the donations received go to feeding, clothing, medical treatment, etc. for the poor. We are going to stand in a booth and collect donations, talk to people, and give out flyers.

I will continue to buy coffee, or lunch for homeless people who tell me they are hungry and ask me to buy them a meal. There are endless ways to show compassion. For example, I can have compassion on a barista at a coffee shop who is swamped with demanding customers – I can be patient and let her know that she is doing a good job and that I am not in a hurry. Ways to be compassionate will present themselves to me continuously, and I just need to be aware of being kind, and considerate of those around me.

The last of the three healing ways to make us more productive is pride. The article wasn’t suggesting we feel the kind of pride that makes us seem obnoxious to others. It was referring to a sense of pride, of being proud of a job well done.

I am proud when I finish a blog post. It doesn’t have to be a perfect blog post, and it doesn’t have to get dozens of likes. I am proud of having completed something that I think of as valuable. In the New Year, I plan to do much more writing (my mentor expects five to ten pages on my memoir every week), so I will have many opportunities to feel a sense of pride. My husband and I also want to cook a recipe that is new to us at least once a week in the New Year, so this is something I can do with my husband that would bring me a sense of pride.

If the researchers are right that compassion, gratitude, and pride are healing, then 2018 should be one of my healthiest years yet. If not, at least I will have made some great choices, and I can add that to my something to be proud of column which I hope is full

Luck can be the Difference Between Homelessness and Help

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Yesterday, my husband and I went to Starbucks. A young woman was sitting at the corner table writing in a notebook. I recognized her from a few months ago when the two of us sat at the same table, and we both shared that we have schizophrenia. Next to her, was a woman who was talking to her loudly. The woman talking looked like she was probably homeless. Her hair was matted, and her skin was dirty. I assumed, although I can’t be positive, that the homeless woman also has a mental illness.

In that small Starbucks that seats about eight people, there were three women with a mental illness (possibly schizophrenia). It was surprising that we were all in the coffee shop at the same time, but what struck me was how sad, eye-opening and heartbreaking the situation was. Neither the young woman writing in her notebook or I wanted to talk to the other woman.

My symptoms weren’t showing yesterday. I looked like an average middle-aged woman having a coffee with her husband (spouse, friend, boss, or whoever people assumed my husband was). The young woman writing looked like someone who was working hard, and busy with her own life and in her world. She wasn’t showing symptoms either. The homeless woman, on the other hand, was showing symptoms of a brain in overdrive – she was talking loudly, she was laughing nervously, and she was trying to engage strangers in conversation. The young woman, politely told her that she was enjoying her music and didn’t feel like talking at the time (she said it a little kinder than I just wrote, but the message was clear).

When the young woman tuned out to the music piped into her ears through earbuds, the homeless woman turned in the direction of my husband and I. I looked away so our eyes wouldn’t meet.

Normally, I will talk to anyone who wants to talk to me, homeless, mentally ill, etc. but there are times when I can’t bear the enormous weight I feel about mentally ill people living on the street. I know the kindest thing I can do is look them in the eye, listen to their story and treat them like a significant and valuable human being. Yesterday, I couldn’t do it though.

After just getting through the holiday season, after just talking with my husband about our hopes and dreams for 2018, I couldn’t carry the burden of our cruel and inadequate mental health system that leaves thousands upon thousands of men and women without care or shelter.

My husband and I give our time and money to an organization that feeds, delivers medical and dental care, provides social and legal services, and assists in securing housing for the homeless. In other words, we are trying to do something to alleviate the suffering of some of the people without adequate care, shelter or services. Of course, we also write to our representatives and vote in every election. And yet, the problem is massive, and the human toll is high. Things don’t seem to be getting better.

And I couldn’t look a fellow human being in the eye yesterday. A human being, who I believe suffers from the same brain disease I do. A human being who isn’t as lucky as I am. She has no protection, no treatment team; she may not have access to medication, she has no shelter, no shower, she may not know where her next meal is coming from, she may not have a change of clothes. And all she was asking for was attention that no one wanted to give.

Next time, no matter how difficult, heavy, how much it weighs down my heart, I am going to look at that homeless woman, and offer to buy her a hot coffee. I know one step left or one step right and I could be in the same shoes she is wearing just looking for some validation that I am still human.

I’m sorry that I’m not always strong enough to hold the enormity of mental illness, but next time, I’m going to heave the baggage off my shoulders and pull up a seat and have a long conversation.

I want to treat everyone as significant. We all deserve that and so much more. Much much more.

 

The Gift of Receiving

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“These chocolates are so good. So good. Here, try one.” Every time I taste something good, whether it is salmon or a chocolate layered cake, I want my husband to try it. I want him to experience the same pleasure that I am. He will frequently say, “No thanks,” and I will say, “Please.” At that point, he usually gives in and tries what I am offering to him.

The scenario I just described is frequent in our house but is only one example of how I try to encourage my husband to experience things that I think he will enjoy. I often feel as if I take up too much space in our home, relationship and lives with my mental illness and my newly diagnosed health problems that require a strict diet.

Those of us who receive a lot of care from another person need to feel as if we can give something back. My husband falls into the category of a giver. Because he is a giver, his needs, wants, and desires are frequently at the back of the line. It gives me great pleasure to see my husband happy and to see him getting the things he wants.

The problem is, my husband will often turn down gifts and gestures of kindness. He will say, “No thank you.” I have told him over the years that if he is going to do so much for so many people he needs to allow others to give back to him. Most of us find a certain joy in giving to others and if my husband always gives but never receives people (me included) can feel left out of that joyous cycle.

I think caregivers in particular need to learn to accept from others, and particularly the people they are caring for. As I wrote earlier, I often feel like the focus or center of our lives revolves around me. Anything I can do to give back to my husband, to make him the focus once in a while pleases me, and it also helps alleviate the guilt of all the things we have to say no to because I am having symptoms.

I feel like there are so many disappointing times when my husband is looking forward to something and because of me, we will have to cancel at the last minute. If I can buy him things that he loves or would enjoy, have him try things, get him to spend time with his best friend, etc. then I feel like the scale is not so lopsided in my direction.

The old saying goes, “It is better to give than receive.” I think there is some truth to that statement, and for those of us who receive much, it is important that we can give and give generously in return.